America’s Homeless Working Poor

The Working Poor and Homeless in the US

Four Corners (2017)

Film Review

This Australian documentary challenges whether job growth in the US (25 million new jobs in ten years) really represents economic recovery. The film makes three important points: 1) the vast majority of new American jobs are minimum wage part-time jobs, 2) well-paid middle class jobs continue to vanish, and 3) approximately one-half of US workers live in poverty.

The film follows three families. The first, in Orlando Florida, consists of a single mother of three who works 70 hours a week for Dunkin’ Donuts and MacDonald’s. Earning $8 an hour, she and her family live in a cheap motel because they can’t afford rent. She sleeps 1-2 hours a night, and her mother-in-law provides childcare while she works.

The second family is a couple with two children who live in a homeless camp in the parking lot of a Seattle church. The wife works full-time as a cashier at Seattle Center, and her husband takes temporary construction jobs when he can find them. Most of the camp residents are employed workers with kids.

The third individual is a middle aged machinist in Erie Pennsylvania who has been just been laid off from General Electric Transport after 13 years. The factory is moving to Fort Worth Texas. GE anticipates cutting wages in half because Texas in a non-union state. In addition to losing millions of industrial jobs when manufacturers moved overseas in the eighties and nineties, the US lost an additional five million industrial jobs in the last 15 years.

 

Living on the Street in Los Angeles

On the Streets – Los Angeles

Los Angeles Times (2016)

Film Review

This is one of the better documentaries I’ve seen on homelessness. Based on a 2016 LA Times survey, it mainly focuses on high functioning homeless people, many of whom hold full time jobs.

According to the survey, in 2016 there were 44,000 homeless people in LA county. The survey mapped their location and whether they were living rough or in tents, camper vans or cars. The number of homeless living in vehicles doubled between 2015 and 2016.

It’s common for women in tents to cluster in “family” groups for security. The filmmakers interview a Skid Row cop who monitors the welfare of homeless people on his beat. He talks about a big increase in rapes, robbery, assaults and sex trafficking – due to criminals who prey on the homeless.

For me, the most interesting part of the film is an interview with a UCLA graduate student who lives in his car and is working with other homeless UCLA students to establish a youth homeless shelter. In the US, roughly 56,000 university students are homeless.

More Babies Die in Cleveland than in North Korea, Sri Lanka, Albania and Guatemala

Behind America’s Infant Mortality Crisis

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

Since the mid-1990s, when Bill Clinton eliminated Aid For Dependent Children (AFDC), the US has enjoyed infant mortality rates among the highest in the world. Rust belt Midwestern cities lead the US in infant mortality. The loss of steel, auto and other manufacturing to third world sweatshops has virtually crushed many of these cities, leaving massive unemployment – particularly among African Americans.

Cleveland is the US city with the highest percentage of babies dying during the first year of life – with an infant mortality greater than third world countries like North Korea, Albania, Sri Lanka and Guatemala.

Trying to identify the cause of Cleveland’s skyrocketing infant mortality, filmmakers interview African American mothers and expectant mothers and neonatal specialists. The neonatologists identify prematurity as the number one cause of infant deaths. Factors that contribute to mothers delivering prematurely include homelessness and lack of access to healthy food (or money to pay for it) and prenatal care. Ohio is one of the states where Republican legislators declined federal funds to expand Medicaid (which pays for prenatal care) to the working poor.

The neonatologists also point out the false economy of this ideological stinginess. Ohio’s Medicaid program spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to keep premature babies alive in state-of-the-art neonatal ICUs – it would cost taxpayers far less to prevent prematurity by ensuring expectant mothers have warm housing, healthy food and prenatal care.